Thursday, 30 August 2012

Sekinchan, My Old Hometown

Family Trip to Sekinchan, 19th August 2012 

It’s bond time. No not James Bond but a family vacation where quality family time needed for cohesive family bonds.

Most people when talk about hometown, they refer to one only but for me I have 4 hometowns - Sekinchan,  Georgetown Penang, Ipoh and Seremban.
This holiday we did not have any plans to go anywhere in particular, so I suggested we go to Sekinchan.
I spent my early childhood in Sekinchan but I grew up in several different places.

A little bit of Sekinchan history..

In the early days 1920's, Sekinchan started as a small fishing village and the main one is Bagan.The early Teochew settlers were mainly fishermen.

In the year of 1953, the idea of New Villages was born and used for the purpose of cutting off resources and support to the Malayan Communist Party.

Sekinchan consists of four villages, that is Site A, (mostly Hokkien farmers), Site B (is the largest village,most of them are Cantonese and Hakka, beside involve in agriculture, the villagers in Site B also involve in business owning shops, coffee shop and grocery stores in the main street), site C  (smallest village that inhabited by rice farmer) and Bagan (is a fishing village in Sekinchan, 90% of the population is Teow Chew)

How Sekinchan got his name?

Before that it was called by the Teow Chew settlers as Ang Mo Kang (white people port) due to the place used to be the British Military base.

The arrival of Hokkien people named it as Chap Lak Gi or 16 Miles due to distance from Kuala Selangor is 16 miles.

With the forming of new villages the above name was not suitable to use. According to old folks tale, a teacher by the name of Lim Bee Teack tried to run away from the Imperial Japanese Army and hid here. He found the soil is very fertile and name it as Sekinchan, in Chinese means the 'village suitable for plantation' or 'place good for farming'. This place was once a wetland idle.

From 1973 onwards, residents began planting rice with the encouragement of the Government scheme of the Green Book . Since then, Sekinchan has been known as Fisheries and Rice Village.

At that time, all the rice is very difficult to grow commercially because it rely on human labour. The farmer standard of living failed to improve.
Nevertheless, earning has increased due to the perseverance and persistence of the Sekinchan Chinese farmers. Self effort to improve productivity has triumphed by the following method:

I) Bringing in Taiwan new technology and new breed of rice
II) Using modern machinery in farming to increase production rice yields
III) Good irrigation system supplies to equal amount of water to each paddy field.
IV)- Utilize the transplant machine can contribute to better yield
V)-  Apply fertilizer at right time and sufficient amount

Now this is interesting, Sekinchan is the highest rice production per acre in Malaysia. Three folds more than the national average but Kedah better known as Rice Bowl of Malaysia! I don't get it, its like a team from a national team cannot compete with a state team? Only the size matter, Kedah being the largest paddy growing in Malaysia.

Malaysia currently imports around 27% of its annual rice requirements from Thailand, Myanmar and India.

The rice in Sekinchan is harvest every June and December. Rice here is yield the highest per hectares and the rice bowl of Selangor. It produce 13mt per hectare compared with other states can only yields only 4-6mt.

We have plenty of land but still only produce about 75% of our needs. Perhaps other state should take the liberty to know why Sekinchan can able to produce that high yields. At present the paddy farming area in the country covers 650,000 hectares of land.

Even countries like Japan, Taiwan and Korea with scarce land can be self sufficient. What is our excuse for not doing better?
We salute the hardworking and dedicating Chinese farmers of Sekinchan, even without much help had proved the saying; “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

For the state of Selangor, selling paddy yields to other states would require a permit and approximately 70% of the yield must be sold locally. That's why you'll find thousands of people flocking to Sekinchan to buy high quality rice as they can't get from their local departmental store.

Today, some of the land in Site A has been switched to growing crop diversification involving maize, fruits (mango, guava,longan, melon milk) and vegetables. In this way the farmer can raise income, optimize their use of resources, increases their land productivity, and minimizes unpredictable risks on pest and diseases common in rice culture. Something to fall back on, if something happens in one area, revenue can still be made in another area.

Journey To Sekinchan

According to the Meteorological Department this year the Hari Raya festival forecast will be a hot and dry weather brought by the south west monsoon to hit the country until September.

The funny thing is every time they announced something like that the weather turned out differently. Just as I predicted the weather turned to rainy day as GOD has other plans.

This is the first day of a long holiday festival. Normally when it comes to a stretch of public holiday especially the Chinese New Year and Hari Raya, the city folks will go back to visit family and relatives or spend a holiday somewhere.

I expected the traffic will be flowing smoothly but there's so little I know. Even before reaching Kuala Selangor the road already congested.

The first thing I need to do when I reach Sekinchan is to do is to find a hotel to stay.

My Old Hometown I've Come Home
In my head I was thinking who would like to visit to a sleepy town like this. No need to pre-booked hotel rooms. Wrong again, 40 years ago we don't have to book. Now, there are more tourist here than Seremban! It will be even more popular after Ntv7 film the drama Seeds of Life shot at the locations in Sekinchan.

It is a small town with not so many choices for accommodation, the only hotel the most decent one in the area is Harbour View Hotel. My sister asked the receptionist any rooms available? She replied "I'm sorry, it's full".

So she asked the receptionist to recommend us another hotel. My brother-in-law called and gets the same answer.
Wait a minute, on our way to town we saw a signboard at the traffic light, saying a new resort and it’s open for business.

Wow! A new resort

Looks nice, unfortunately not completed

We tried our luck but they need to confirm as the rooms are not fully completed. The rooms are schedule to complete in phases and the contractor might have some ready today by 5.30pm.

This resort path will lead us to the Redang beach within walking distance. We made a short trip drive there and found many cars already at the beach side parking. The sunset here is especially beautiful and plenty of seashell to collect for souvenirs.
Yeah, this place is a nature photographer haven for scenic places for photo shoot- the fishing village, paddy fields, nice sunset shots and migrating birds.

An old family photo taken at Redang Beach when the beach looked much cleaner than today
We search for a place to fill our growling stomachs. Found one at Jiann Chyi Restaurant as recommended by Axian TV show but the place was packed.

Nah, forget it, we’re hungry and later we found another new brick building opposite of Jiann Chyi restaurant.
It was packed as usual but luckily we found a table for us. However we still need to wait for another 1.1/2 hours to get our food. After dinner at 5pm we tried to find our way to a rice mill.

On the way there I saw this strange looking tree that look like a pomello. No, my sis said this is an anti cancer fruit which she does not know what it was called.

It's looks like a mini pomelo, no it's a grapefruit

As we pass by, we find a long stretch of irrigation channel and followed it. We thought we'll see a scene like
'A little house of Prairie' with it's open skies, seemingly endless horizon and tall grasses but luck has deserted us as the rice have been harvested so what left with a barren paddy fields.

Post Harvest Rice Residual Burnt
After harvest, rice straw is left in the field. Rice farmers scattered rice straw over the field to decompose, adding nutrients back into the soil. This is an important part of soil health. Cover Crop is grown mainly to reduce soil erosion by covering barren land.

flood a portion of the fields
Generally,rice fields also serve as the habitat for birds. A portion of the field is flooded where they help decompose straw, reduce weed population, and provide natural fertilization.(bird droppings)

Along the way we saw many swiftlet rearing building. Some foreigners they might think why are there so many war bunkers look alike at the paddy fields?

War Bunker? Nah it's swiftlet bird house

At a junction we see many cars drive pass us and I suggested we follow the path and see where it leads us. Ah.. so this is the ultra modern rice plant. Not the one I saw when I was young.

So many visitors at the Rice mill plant

Rice Mill Machine

The cultivation of rice begins by planting water soaked seeds in a properly prepared bed

Something about Rice
Rice is a staple food of Malaysia, Asian and 79% of the world population. Worldwide there are more than 40,000 different varieties of rice but the four major categories of rice worldwide:

Indica, (long-grain-is firmer and less sticky than shorter grain with less starch so the it tend to break easily. When cooked, the rice is fluffy and does not stick together. It's usually grown in hot climates)

japonica, (medium- and short-grain, very starchy and cooks up soft and sticky. It’s used in things like sushi, It is majorly grown in Japan).

aromatic/jasmine, (medium to long-grained rice. Jasmine rice is originally from Thailand, sometimes known as Thai fragrant rice. It is known for its nut-like aroma and taste. When cooked, the grains have a light and fluffy texture).

and glutinous (also called sticky rice, sweet rice, and pearl rice, widely used in many Chinese cuisines and home brew red rice wine.)

Rice can be grown practically anywhere, even on steep hillsides. It is typically grown in paddies, shallow puddles, because the the rice plant is tolerant of water and the water in the paddies prevents weeds from overtaking the seedlings.

Interesting Facts:

Chinese have a typical way of saying How are you? They say "Have you eaten your rice?". You are expected to reply "Yes, I have eaten"
Another fact is the old folk tale, usually the parents will says to their children 'If you did not finish up every grain of rice, you're wife/husband will not be beautiful'. A clever scare tactic used!

Rice Growing Process

Planting- The cultivation of rice seedlings are raised in a seedbed with a saturated water supply.

Transplanting-  4- to 5-week - old seedlings are transplanted from nursery beds into the water, giving the young plants an important head start to survive over a very wide range of competing weeds.
The rice has to grow 4 to 5 months to mature, when it turns to golden yellow. The paddies are drained of water.

Harvesting - Grains are harvested after the rice plants have flowered. Rice in the old days is harvested by back-breaking labor with a sickle but now with rice harvesting machine.

Drying- Once harvested, the rice is usually dried in the fields with the help of sunshine or bundled for processing. Undried rough rice is transported to a drying facility to reduce the moisture content of the harvested grains The rice is now ready for milling.

Milling- In this process is to produce final product of polish white rice. It has three basic stages,

•the husking stage -  removing the husk from the paddy
•the whitening-polishing stage-the bran layers are removed through whitening and polishing machines to give rice a pearl white look
•the grading, blending, and packaging stage

Pallets of packaged rice await distribution in warehouse.

No Hotel Rooms Available

My brother-in-law called the receptionist and being inform they still cannot confirm room availability till 8.00pm.
We did not want to take the risk of waiting for an uncompleted room, so we save for the next trip in future.
My co-worker asked me why didn't I call him as he could help me to find a place in homestay.(Homestay as the term suggests means staying in someone's home. By definition a home is "place together with a family unit that occupies a house with all the comfort of home facilities, differs from staying in a hotel room experience")

Head to Hometown No 3- Ipoh

I suggest either we go back to Seremban or pay a visit to my aunt at Ipoh which is about the same distance. We finally came to a unanimous decision to go to Ipoh.
My brother-in-law want to use the costal trunk road to reach Ipoh and he should listen to me to use another route southeast and continue using N-S Highway I suggested. Although a bit further, what you get is a smooth and comfortable ride.
A bad decision as this coastal road is dark, narrow and full of roller coaster bumper ride.

I consider this a blessing in disguise as this is the first time we cross the Bernam River using the dual parallel bridge, each boasting a road with two lanes. The Bernam River forms part of the boundary between Perak and Selangor. My sister says most of the younger generation has no idea before this bridge was built the only way to cross is using a motorised boat pushing the tiny wooden barge or some sort of wooden ferry. There would be scary moments as when a boat speed pass, the wave tend to rock the ferry.

The good old days - Old school style of crossing  Sabak Bernam river

Before we reach Ipoh the rain began to pour , making me difficult to drive due to the wiper of my brother-in-law car has worn out blades.
Do remember most car does not have a longer lasting windshield sea as the sun bakes will harden the rubber parts. I suggest you'll need to change to Silicone Windscreen Wiper Blades for longer lasting.

Looking back on the trip

I can hardly recognize the place anymore. It’s once a small, sleepy, quiet fishing and paddy field town but now turn into a bustling busy town, swarming with tourist.
Many years ago the people here use bicycle mainly for transport but I don't see much now except by tourist using it for sightseeing.

Mom says, 'there have been a lot of changes in this town since she left'. What she remember is every year a flood will come along and flood for 3 days come and go. Sometimes the flood comes at night, the water level just quietly rose and the next morning mom will see all her pots and pans floating around somewhere. My old Sekinchan also reminds me of my childhood when I used to catch dragonflies and fireflies. I was not a naughty boy, just a bit mischievous.

Old photo - My dad holding me during a flood in Sekinchan

When this place was still undeveloped areas, snakes are often found and caught in my area. My neighbor used to catch the snakes, cook it and ate them too. Seriously! Snake meat is usually said to taste like chicken. You won't know the difference.
Snakes are found wherever rats and frogs/toads are prevalent. Naturally they are often found in rice fields. So just be careful while visiting rice field.

For the record, the man who invented USB pen-drive hails from Sekinchan. Quality rice and plenty of eating fresh caught fish( Omega 3 found in fish is good for the brain)  from here makes a person smart. No kidding!

Pollution is bound to happen. The rows of restaurant should not be so close to the coastline. I am not sure whether the disposal of rubbish is done properly. I am sure if there is no proper disposal of rubbish, the rubbish or leftover will be throws to the sea for conveniently.

Restaurant owners need to look at cleanliness as a major concern. We love good, fresh, cheap and tasty Sekinchan sea food is well know for but if the owners don't want to be bothered or emphasis on  hygiene and cleanliness then all of my good impression will go down.

Is the good business of tourism a good or bad thing for Sekinchan? I hope it would not sacrifice the
ecological environment or natural beauty of this place.

Unfortunately, I have not enough time to explore more into this part of town. Maybe in the future, I get my friend as a guide. (He has been a regular visitor to Sekinchan and he says he already plans to visit in December)

I’ll be back. Hasta la vista baby! (Means want to see you real soon)

My old primary class photo, I wonder where they are now?

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