Friday, July 29, 2005

When the tin ran out

Recent plans to redevelop Sungai Lembing must be lauded in helping to inject much needed progress into the town's daily life and economy. Yet much more will be needed to jump start this sleepy hollow and sometimes I question whether there really is a need to reinvigorate the town and jumpstart things from what is it currently. Sungai Lembing offers a look into small town life, the most direct comparison can be made to small town America where life revolves along two main roads, family owned stores and practically the whole community knows each other and life is touched by a lack of hecticness. The mines are closed and with the the most viable economic impetus to keep the town running, the young are heading elsewhere to find work and start life anew and most of the population are aging. As with the fate of any boom town like California and Yukon during the goldrush, when the rush fades, the town will have to reinvent itself or face obscurity of which unfortunately Sungai Lembing has been left in quite a state of decline after the 70s.


Life is often just whiling away time, sitting at the corner shop having a cup of kopi o kau kau (thick black brewed coffee) is a favourite or just be resting in the lobby of the shophouse with the front door open to let the cool breeze in.


An old relic left to fend against the elements. At least it has the old abandon shed to accompany it into decay.

Yet Sungai Lembing is not without it's charms. The surrounding environment is quite intact with large forested mountain ranges and great vistas as can be seen from Bukit Panorama (Panorama Hill). Local Kuantan teenagers can often be found coming over and hiking up in the evening and spending a freezing night to catch a glimpse of the magnificant sunrise as seen from the top of the 400m hill. There has even been sighting by the Malaysian Nature Society of Rafflesias growing in the vicinty which was thought quite improbable until recently.

It has a place in Pahang history and a large role in Malaysia's as being a major source of tin. The best source for Sungai Lembing to capitalize in revolves around it's tin mining industry. From the time that Sultan Ahmad signed the concession over to Baba Ah Sam and later by the British owned Pahang Consolidated Company Limited (PCCL) there is around a hundred and twenty years of mining history (the mines were finally shut down in 1986 due to flooded tunnels that made operations no longer economically feasible) here alone. The tourism potential is there, what is needed is a more concentrated effort in terms of preservation and promotion. Already the Tin Mining Museum is a showcase of this history and plans are in the works to make several sections of the old mines passable again for tourists to view. It still claims the title of being the longest and deepest underground mine in the world (322 km in total length and depths of 610 to 700 meters) and with Malaysia Boleh gumption its a wonder the government isn't using this as a selling point.


What better way to while away the time than to gather in a group and sit around the whole day, talking about sweet nothings.


A closeup of a wooden double storey shophouse. Notice the poster of the choy sun (god of prosperity) found on the window, speaks volumes as to the racial composition of the town, predorminantly Chinese who used to work the mines or run the retail outfits to supply the industry.


Familar lanterns can be seen hung at the front of shops. Electrification has done wonders whereas in the past people would have to depend on keroseine stoves and lamps for heat and warmth.

Better infrastructures are needed, roads are still quite under developed, enough to accomodate normal day traffic but without dual carriageways to support large scale tourism. Support services such as hotels and eateries are basic to say the most and but has the potential to grow. Maybe all this isn't necessary since Sungai Lembing can be reached from Kuantan in under an hour and along the way visitors can also make stopovers at potential spots like the Buddhist Temple at Gua Charas or the Pelanggi waterfalls. Certainly it is long overdue for a shot in the arm of for the town from its stupor and bring more mass appeal within, the potential opening of the Mayah tunnel for tourists viewing and experience actual conditions in the mines will be an attraction.

Related articles:

Sungai Lembing chronicles
Kopi-O satu!
The town that time left behind
Map of Sungai Lembing


5xmom said...

As usual, down memory lane (though I am not that old la) with Kervin and the world through his eyes.

Kervin said...

5xmom: Hehe sometimes I wonder if I'm at an age thats appropriate to retrospect and become nostalgic, but I like that type of writing style :D